The Sound of Birds

Many years ago, while I was living and enjoying the beach life in San Diego, I was encouraged to get certified in SCUBA. La Jolla Cove was the site of our open water classes and our instructor couldn’t have picked a more beautiful (underwater!) location. The San Diego-La Jolla Underwater Park spans 6,000 acres of ocean bottom and tidelands and four distinct habitats make it a popular destination for snorkelers and scuba divers (Wikipedia).

And it was beautiful, from what I could see. The problem was, with my nearsightedness, there was very little that I could actually see, or see clearly that is. We would glide along the bottom and my diving buddy Dale would excitedly point out the brightly colored Garibaldi swimming past us, an octopus before it swooshed away, and even the occasional baby shark. I would nod approvingly and continue on, somewhat oblivious to the marine world around me. It was fun but, really? If you can’t see anything, why bother.

Dale takes a break from boat-bottom cleaning

That summer I learned that one could get a diving mask ground with your optical prescription. What a game changer! Suddenly everything I had been missing became much more clear. A world had opened up that I thought I had known before, but really as if only from a distance, and a hazy one at that.

When I decided to get hearing aids for the first time this summer, it was with the same mix of interest and reluctance that I had ordered my first prescription diving mask: is this really going to be worth the expense? Am I really missing out on something or will this simply be one more cost, one more item I’m going to have to maintain or keep updated? Do I give in and admit that I’m “getting old” or do I continue to hear with difficulty in those crowded classroom situations, nodding, smiling, and relying on some vague lipreading skills to navigate the conversations around me?

I went with a midrange set of aids from Costco (after having to renew my membership) and was immediately struck by the difference they made in my perception of the world around me. Yes, apparently I have been missing out on quite a range of sounds (see my recent blog post here)

It wasn’t just that everything sounded a little louder, brighter. I was actually HEARING things I hadn’t really noticed before. Like the sound of birds. Our home has a wooded buffer zone separating the townhomes from the single family homes nearby. It is an area rich with wildlife (deer, rabbits, foxes, hawks and owls, and all manor of smaller birds). I’ve heard them all before to some degree. But that first time sitting outside with my new ears on? Wow, the volume and variety of sounds was a bit overwhelming! And this was during the height of the Brood X cicada invasion so there was that to deal with as well.

I’m beginning to get used to this new world and it’s sounds now. My younger brother also has hearing aids–he was actually the one who suggested that I get my hearing tested. He mentioned that this heightened sense of reality, like the smell of a new car, would eventually wear off and sounds would return to a more normal range. I’m hoping so. Right now it is a little disturbing to be hearing the sounds of my shoelaces rubbing the eyelets of my sneakers as I am lacing them up. Or snack wrappers being crinkled. Or that clicking sound from the lighter on our gas stove when I turn on a burner. All sounds I never really heard before.

I like the sound of birds though. I love sitting out on the deck in the evening and hearing them chatter to one another as it grows dark. I do wish they weren’t quite so loud, though I guess I could always turn down the volume on these devices. There’s a thought! Hopefully I haven’t been missing anything else that can easily be corrected. Technology!

Can’t Hear You

Three years into retirement and I think I’m beginning to get the hang of this new life. I’ve managed to set up a few new routines —make the bed every morning, walk the neighborhood trail before it gets hot, take the trash and recycling out on Thursday mornings. But along the way I’ve noticed some new, unexpected realities.

Recently our pastor spoke on one of the seven great I Am statements from Jesus in the New Testament. Pastor Brian mentioned how, if we aren’t careful, our view of God can become a little fuzzy over time, to the point where we might need an adjustment to our vision, or perhaps a new pair of glasses to help us see more clearly.

Which all got me to thinking about some other changes in my life recently that have seemingly crept up slowly, catching me unaware.

In the fall of 2017 as I was getting ready to retire at the end of that year, I went in for my yearly vision check up. Nothing new, I go in every year about the same time and generally end up with a new prescription to my glasses, all is good. That year my doctor had sobering advice and I ended up getting scheduled for cataract surgery. After a brief recovery period, I had to admit that I hadn’t really noticed how bad my vision had gotten, but I was happy about the vast improvement the new lenses provided.

In a similar storyline, in late 2019 I consulted an orthopedic surgeon regarding my increasing knee pain and in February of 2020, just before the pandemic closed everything down, I had knee replacement surgery. Recovery took quite a bit longer than I had expected but physical therapy made a great difference in my ability to get up and down our stairs more comfortably than before. It’s been a welcome holding effort on what looks to be a general downhill trajectory.

We recently had houseguests staying with us for several days. One of the new additions to the husband’s daily routine was to put in his new ears, a high tech hearing aid designed to help filter and amplify the myriad of sounds in our lives. I was curious because I’ve been experiencing what could possibly be considered “slight” hearing difficulties. Yet, like him, I considered myself too young to be needing a hearing aid.

With the encouragement of my wife and the recommendation of friends, I finally made an appointment to have my hearing tested. The last time I had been tested was during my service in the Army over thirty years ago; a lot can change during that time! My brooding anxiety was quickly dispelled during the test, though the small room with its “dead” acoustics made me a bit dizzy. I was relieved when the testing was completed and excited to see the results of what I expected to be a normal graph of my ears and their ability to distinguish between tones and recognize spoken words.

Well, it seems I am a candidate for some type of assisted-hearing device. I was actually shocked to see how much my hearing had dropped from the normal range, but the technician’s explanations made perfect sense once I thought about it. I’m still wrestling with the whole episode and there are a few appointments still to be made. More than anything, it has been hard reconciling some of the effects of getting older with how I perceive myself. But I have a guide to help me process some of what’s occurring, and likely to occur health-wise in the future.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians and recorded for us in the New Testament, describes our situation. “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.“ 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, The Message

Encouraging words, though I may be falling apart on the outside, yet daily God is renewing me to be more like Him. I’m sure I‘ll find more things that need attention before we get across the finish line. But then again, these bodies weren’t meant to last forever. But a day is coming!

Slow Down

I’ve been doing a lot of walking lately. There are many reasons for this, one of which would be a desire to lose these COVID pounds that I’ve put on over the past several months. Another one is certainly a goal of better health. I don’t have a bicycle and I don’t particularly like to swim, both of which have been suggested to me by my doctor. So walking it is.

As I continue to recover from knee surgery, I’m finding that my steps are shorter than before. I’m hoping to get back to my old gait and I would eventually like to measure my distance in miles, not steps. 10,000 steps a day is a goal still beyond my grasp but we are getting there. 

In truth, there are far more steps behind me now than those ahead. It’s something I wrestle with but haven’t lost sleep over. “The mind of a person plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” Proverbs 16.

One thing I’ve found while walking is that I still have a bad habit of constantly looking down. (Yes, I have run into a sign post and more than once.) I can end up focusing on what’s right in front of me and miss the bigger picture. I found this to be a problem when mowing the lawn, for instance. Focusing on long term goals but only looking at short term gains can quickly run you into the weeds. 

A group of us recently went through a study in the New Testament book of James. A key verse which stood out to me then is now just making itself more profitable. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” Don’t we so often have this turned around? We are too quick to become angry, we find it hard to listen, and we are always ready to speak. Slowing down before we speak, or in my case before I post on social media, could just save us from unintended consequences. Not always, but it’s a beginning. 

A dear friend recently lifted my spirits by reaffirming something our pastor had just spoken about regarding what it is we are to be doing while we are walking through this life. Memes found on the internet are hardly the place to go for advice. I post it here for your consideration. Much can be made of the phrase “act justly,” or the one that follows “love mercy.” But what caught my attention was the concluding phrase, “walk humbly with your God.” 

It’s the invitation, not just how we are to walk (in humility) but with whom we are to walk that catches my breath here. When our granddaughter was small she and I would walk hand in hand, her small steps leading the way, often pulling me along the path. At times she would run ahead but always waiting for me to catch up; I guess I was slow even then. 

Her trust in the one she was walking with was evident. I’m hoping that as I slow down, giving greater attention to listening, I will develop a heart and attitude of humility. I know we are called to do justly, that is, to be people who love and uphold justice. And we are to love mercy or be merciful—but what are these qualities if they aren’t found in combination with humility? Aren’t they just another opportunity for us to showcase our pride? I’m hoping, expecting even, that by slowing down I will grow in humility, mercy, and a love of justice because of the One with whom I am walking. Baby steps, in one continuous direction.

Living Between the Rocks

The Summer of COVID has brought uncountable change to our lives. Weddings, graduations, reunions, church services, movie theater closings, bars and restaurants pivoting to curbside pickup: our daily routines have been upended in ways too numerous to catalog. While news reports continue to make note of the ever increasing numbers of “test positives”, the shear number of lives lost these past six months has gone past shocking. We become less sensitive, perhaps, to the backbeat of daily reminders of the fragility, and temporal nature of our lives.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

phrase [PHRASE after verb] If you are caught between a rock and a hard place, you are in a difficult situation where you have to choose between two equally unpleasant courses of action.

I’ve challenged myself to get out and walk the neighborhood these last few months of summer. The road back from my knee surgery has been a slow one, and I’m reconciled to the thought that I will likely never run a 10 kilometer race again. But I hope to gradually build up to walking six miles a day.

The last visit with my surgeon, I proudly reported that I was up to walking 3-4 miles during the week, in one half to three quarter mile increments. Chest puffed out, I was pretty proud of my accomplishment. I had set a goal of eventually walking a mile, and finally I achieved it. 

But that larger goal still lies before me. Like some great rock in the distance, the challenge of moving towards it motivates me to continue.  If I could walk one mile, would it be possible to increase that to maybe, one and a half? Perhaps even…two miles? 

I’ve been living between these two rocks: behind me, the misplaced fear of slow deterioration, ahead the unachievable goal of remembered youthful accomplishment. However, I’m finding exploring our new neighborhood at my admittedly slower pace, has given me a greater appreciation for the world around me and my place in it.

Along the walking paths in our neighborhood we continue to find painted rocks, small stones of encouragement left for walkers to discover. My granddaughter and I have left a few of our own creations as well. 

There seemed to be more rocks discovered during the first few weeks of our quarantine. Lately, not so many, perhaps a jewel-toned design or a smiley face left in the notch of a tree, but now usually nothing on my daily walk. 

This past week I found three, likely by the same artist, rock-solid encouragement as we walk the path before us. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Those are trustworthy rocks. 

16 Weeks Later

On Ash Wednesday, February 26, I went in to INOVA Loudoun for knee replacement surgery. It was nearly 25 years after I had had the same knee operated on for a torn meniscus. At that time I was as told that, because of the presence of arthritis, I would eventually need surgery. The “wait and see” period lasted far longer than I had expected, but eventually it caught up with me.

Total knee replacement surgery has become quite common here in the States. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, more than 600,000 knee replacements are performed each year in the United States. Several of my friends have had their’s done as have a number of my extended family members. One Aunt had both knees replaced and two hip surgeries! So it wasn’t something that I had any anxiety about. Still, I had some concerns regarding length of recuperation and, to be honest, whether or not I would actually be better off afterwards.

This past New Year’s Eve, a group of us went out together for dinner and dancing. This was the fifth year we had all celebrated together and it’s been a lot of fun. Since taking ballroom dance lessons as a group, we have all looked forward to getting together and ushering in the New Year, putting into practice the lessons learned in fox trot, swing, and waltz. But it was with difficulty I struggled through a couple of dances and I ended up sitting out most of the evening. My hope was that, with surgery and rehabilitation, I would at least be able to get back to an activity I enjoyed.

Surgery took longer than expected; years of compensating for my deteriorating condition had caused secondary issues with muscles and bone displacement. Thankfully my surgeon was able to correct my stance and now my legs are straighter than they’ve been in years (a decided plus for the fox trot!). 

But recovery was long, slow, and challenging. Shortly after I began physical therapy, the country went into quarantine as a result of Covid-19. Many businesses were closed, entire sectors of the economy shut down, schools closed, millions of people lost their jobs, tens of thousands have died from the effects of a virus we had not seen before.

And then we came face-to-face with the results of generations of unjust treatment when coast to coast demonstrations and protests exploded across America. Through all of this, we have just begun to recover and “get back to normal”. Yet, even as I know my newly refurbished knee won’t be the same as before, we recognize as a country we won’t be “returning to normal.” The challenge ahead of us lies in creating something stronger, better than before we were broken. Healing is never guaranteed but we can’t miss the opportunity to set things right, not restore but make better.

Twice a week for physical therapy, a Starbucks marker for each visit.

We’ve Been Through This Before

For the past three weeks I have been house-bound, self quarantined would be today’s expression, not from any result of Corona virus but as I recover from knee surgery.

During that time, I have tried to follow online the progress of the US response to increasing numbers of afflicted individuals and communities across America. School closures, limiting the size of groups, church worship services going to online streaming rather than meeting in person, work schedules allowing for telework, and job loss: all of these have affected our family as well as countless families in our communities.

But what has struck me personally have been the food shortages at our local grocery. While the President has urged Americans to use restraint, not to hoard, that there is plenty of material in the supply line, it still seems as if many of the items we put on our shopping list are not available. Who would have thought that, along with toilet paper, there wouldn’t be any ground beef or milk, let alone bread, in the grocery aisles?

WWII rationing from The Ames History Museum.

Which in turn got me thinking of rationing and the days during World War 2 and America’s response during that time period. The Greatest Generation stepped up with a resilience I’m not sure we are seeing yet in our people. While President Trump has said that we are in a war with an invisible enemy.

“I do, I actually do, I’m looking at it that way,” Trump told reporters during a press briefing at the White House when asked whether he considered the U.S. to be on a wartime footing. “I look at it, I view it as, in a sense, a wartime president. I mean, that’s what we’re fighting.

“To this day, nobody has ever seen like it, what they were able to do during World War II,” he continued. “Now it’s our time. We must sacrifice together, because we are all in this together, and we will come through together. It’s the invisible enemy. That’s always the toughest enemy, the invisible enemy.”

I asked my Mom, who was 12 at the start of WWII, what she remembered about the time, especially how food rationing would have affected her family. Her responses really had more to say about the change in America over the past 70 some odd years than any individual shortage of TP.

“We were not allowed to read newspapers nor listen to the radio. What money I made baby sitting and house cleaning for other people, Mother kept. She did send me to the store once  to buy Snowflake Soda Crackers for 31 cents.  I know leather was rationed, but we only got one pair of shoes a year, so that was no problem.  Meat was rationed , but we could not afford it anyway, sothat didn’t affect us. We had cows, so lots of milk;  we had chickens so we did have chicken on Sunday; usually with a soldier or two, or sailors.

The Arrowhead Springs Hotel in the foothills beneath the big bare arrow head on the mountain had been turned into a naval hospital.  Mother would call the USO and have them send a couple of guys out for Sunday dinner.   And we had plenty of eggs.  Mother did not tell us what anything cost, nor whether it was difficult to get anything.  We didn’t go shopping; Mother made most of our clothes…at least  the girl’s.

Mom (third from right) with her siblings.

I don’t think we were affected all that much by the rationing.  We got hamburger and made spaghetti…big pots of it.  We grew vegetables, had a small orchard of fruit trees, orange and lemon and a few others. (They were living in Southern California at the time.)

From the time I was about eight, we had dancing and music lessons; we sang in the children’s choir at church, played in the children’s orchestra on Wednesday at the high school, and on Saturday at the high school during the summer.  We belonged to the Y, and had library cards. We were really very busy.” Lora Lea Willis Chamberlin

For an interesting perspective on rationing during that time, take a look here:

Starting Over

When I turned 30 I ran my first (and only) marathon. I had been running daily at work for a couple of years and had participated in several short to mid-distance fun runs in the San Diego area with a small group from work. The 10K runs were always enjoyable; I never ran at the front of the pack preferring to keep a pleasant 7 minute pace and just jog along. I don’t think I was quite ready for the amount of running/training it would take to get up to the 26.2 miles of a marathon. But I was game and I was pleased with my eventual 3 1/2 hour race time.

Doing things in inverse order, I ran a 15K race thru Torrey Pines sometime after the marathon. I was surprised at how my time had gotten better along with my enjoyment. I loved running, just loved it. And it was something I could do and definitely see signs of improvement.

However, 13 years later, after experiencing quite a bit of pain in my knee which I attributed to running on hard surfaces, I finally decided to do something about it. Laproscopic surgery was the result and repairing the torn meniscus greatly reduced my discomfort. But I found I couldn’t run anymore. At the time, the surgeon had said I also had arthritis in both knees (did you play football in college, he asked? uh…no). Watchful waiting was prescribed at the time.

It’s now 25 years after that first surgery and I am getting ready to go in again. But the years haven’t been so kind to my bones and arthritis has taken it’s toll. Like many others my age, I will be getting a total knee replacement. I’m looking forward to starting over: walking at first with my cane and in time, greater distances.

But reading through the literature I was surprised to see that I won’t be doing any running after recovery: “Following surgery, you will be advised to avoid some types of activity, including jogging and high impact sports, for the rest of your life…” We’ve been doing ballroom dancing (low impact sport?) for the past 6 years so I’m hoping to get back to that routine. But it doesn’t look like I will be competing in any senior division half marathons in the future.

There have been a number of times in the past when I have had to start over. When I moved to San Diego after college graduation; when I joined the Army; when I moved to Virginia. All have had their challenges and I’ve been excited for a fresh start. This time it’s reassuring to have a partner at my side as I start over. At least she can help me get to my walker! We shall see what lies ahead.

An MRI can reveal a lot on the inside to the trained eye.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 2 Corinthians 4:7